Divorce Information

The Heart Moves On: Using Ceremony to Mark the End of a Relationship


Divorce or the end of a long-term relationship is a particularly difficult experience because it makes you deal with two different sets of issues.

  • Issues of endings, separation, and letting go (disappointment, anger, sadness, fear and trying to achieve closure)
  • Issues of acceptance, forgiveness, becoming open to new beginnings and new possibilities.

A Divorce/End of Relationship Ceremony can give a boost to that process. The difference between a divorce ceremony and an end-of-relationship ceremonies is largely timing. In Australia, which has no-fault divorce dependent only on a period of separation, the relationship has formally ended quite some time before the divorce becomes final. Either ceremony is an appropriate way to mark the end of your relationship with ritual and ceremony.

Whichever you choose, if the ceremony is properly performed, it will have a deep spiritual content which will increase your sense of belonging. In the context of human behaviour it is the emotions that matter. The process of preparing for the ceremony, and the ceremony itself, supports positive emotions at a time of transition from one state of being to another by having a positive impact on the subconscious. A positive ceremony alleviates anxiety about the capacity to live separate lives, and steers the emotions away from self-recrimination to celebration of growth and learning.

Some couples choose to have a divorce ceremony once the relationship has legally ended with the granting of a divorce. But I find that, given the opportunity, couples may choose to acknowledge the end of the relationship sometime during the initial period of separation, way before the formal proceedings have started. This can be very helpful where there are children of the relationship because in a formal way the parents' continued commitment to those children is made clear, and the children are formally absolved of blame for the breakdown in the marriage. (Many children do blame themselves and this needs to be addressed).

There are two types of Divorce/End of Relationship Ceremony. Where the former partners can be respectful of each other and can put their differences aside to focus on the needs of their children, the ceremony may be seen as a positive step towards separation. Vows may be retracted and formal statement of support for each other and for the children are made. This is particularly helpful as children often believe that they are the cause of the break-up, and a formal, public ceremony in which the former partners stress that their split does not mean a change in their relationship with the children can be very helpful.

The second type of ceremony, where only one partner is involved, is more akin to a funeral. The good parts of the relationship are eulogised and steps are taken to help the 'surviving party' to move on.

Ultimately however, your ceremony outcomes depend on the skill of your celebrant.

If you are planning a ceremony to mark the end of a relationship, I urge you to focus on two things:

  • healing the wounds of the breakdown of the relationship, and
  • moving on.

I have been horrified to see examples of "post-divorce" ceremonies which were virtually undistinguishable from black magic, including sticking pins in an effigy of a spouse, or burying a coffin contain a photo of the ex-spouse.

I frankly refuse to conduct ceremonies where the potential client wants every person present to make a negative statement about the ex-spouse. Some celebrants are not quite so fussy, going along with this, though some may refuse to allow children of the marriage to make a negative statement against their mother or father. Nonetheless, the child is there and hears the statements, which will cause distress and is potentially harmful.

When you approach a celebrant to conduct an end-of-relationship or divorce ceremony, be aware that the role of the celebrant is not to be a substitute counsellor, but to be a facilitor, using his or her skills in working with people at a time of heightened emotions.

The process of developing your ceremony should result in a ceremony that enables you to:

  • say goodbye to the past relationship
  • acknowledge and celebrate what was good in that relationship and the growth each party underwent during and as a result of the relationship
  • affirm your values
  • express appreciation
  • move through the transitional phrase between being half of a couple and being a single person
  • acknowledge your new status and the positive aspects of this new status.

Jennifer Cram is a sought after celebrant based in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia who conducts a range of ceremonies including The Heart Moves On ceremonies to mark a divorce or end of a relationship. She also has Psychology degree. For more information check her website http://www.jennifercram.com

Copyright 2005 Jennifer Cram. You have permission to publish this article electronically or in print, free of charge, as long as the bylines are included. A courtesy copy of your publication would be appreciated.


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